Seven ways to Keep Writing
Are you a writer? An author?
If you are reading this, then chances are you are.
You may not have been ‘properly published’ yet, in which case maybe you think you aren’t a ‘proper author’.
But that doesn’t matter. If you want to write, or feel compelled to write because it’s a need in you that keeps bubbling up and needs to find an outlet, then you are a Writer. Or an Author. Whichever you prefer to call yourself.
The question is, do you want this to become a significant part of your life? If you spend more time thinking about it than actually writing, chances are you are using that time to find reasons why you can’t write. Why you can’t be a ‘proper author’.
So this article aims to give you some practical methods for cutting through that unhelpful sabotaging self-talk, so you can get on with being who you are.
Which is a Writer. An Author.
Write before anything else
What’s the first thing you do in the morning? I bet it is habit related. For some, it is checking their phone or emails or FaceBook feed. For some, lighting a cigarette. For some, exercise.
Morning is full of habits: Getting dressed, organising the kids, brushing your teeth, driving to work. Stuff you just get on with, because it has to be done.
Why isn’t writing part of this? That has to be done too, hasn’t it?
What I do when I wake up now is to write for 15 minutes. I set a timer on my phone and I just write.
Then I get into work thirty minutes early, take myself to a shared work area away from my desk, and write some more, with brain entrainment binaural beats with background noise on in my headphones to cut stuff out and ensure my mind is in the right gear.
Examine your blocking thoughts
Whenever your mind wanders to writing, and you think of the things getting in your way that means you can’t get around to writing just now, take a moment to note those reasons down.
Keep them on a piece of paper, and then go through them one weekend, and write down 10 ways you can overcome those obstacles.
Once you put your mind to it, you realise those blocks may seem valid, but can be overcome or mitigated with a bit of reorganisation or even just different ways of thinking – or a bit of googling!
Here’s a quick list of examples:
- I cannot write when there is noise around – Practice writing when there is noise around – even if it is nonsense. You can’t do it now. Maybe you could do it in the future. How much time would this unlock for you? Start with 2 minutes of writing rubbish. Then 5 minutes. Then set a topic, and try five minutes in the worst possible situation. And so on… Little goals to a big change.
- I cannot think of a good story – Have you tried non-fiction? Try telling the story of something boring in your day. Now imagine what would happen if something unexpected had interrupted that – say a man with a chainsaw bursting in? How does it change now? What do those people do in that situation? You don’t have to have a whole book – just an inciting incident, and everything can work around that one incident.
- My English is not good enough – So write. Find a forum where someone is trying to learn your language, and swap time so that they critique your writing (make it short) and you critique theirs. Find a cheap editor who is good enough to understand grammatical mistakes. Ask a friend who speaks well to ‘mark your work’ with red pen! Learn. Go to English Writing classes. Read English books and note how people say things differently to you. Improve. Bit by bit. But keep going.
- I want to be published properly by a publisher, not publish it myself. Great. So how are you going to prove to the publisher that your books can sell? They would have to take a real gamble on you. If you self-publish, and built a community, then that’s a saleable commodity for a publisher, and proof that you may be worth the investment. Remember that the more people between you and the reader, the less money goes into your pocket. If you are okay with this, then fine – go for it. But how many people are you potentially denying reading your book? Traditional publishers can potentially get you into markets difficult to otherwise get into, this is true. But it is a legal minefield, and you may find that when you don’t sell initially due to being poorly marketed because you are not a big name, that they don’t bother marketing you any further – but retain the rights to sell in various markets. So you effectively lose your asset that may be perfectly good. Is it worth the risk? Or would you prefer to retain control of your own intellectual property until the publisher has proven themselves to be a good custodian of your work? It’s your choice. But is it a good reason not to write, or publish yourself? Or is it a reason to convince yourself not to take the risk?
- I don’t have time – Nobody has time, until they find it. We fill our time one way or another. We just have to choose what takes priority. Thirty minutes less time a day watching the TV, or on Social Media, or even going out with friends? How important is this to you? You can’t find little snippets of time between other activities? Really? You have time. We all have time. We just have to realise that parts of our life is actually us hiding from life and the possibilities of an unknown future. Cut down on those, and start filling those activities up with things that can take you into the future. Five minutes at a time. Before you know it, your life will start looking very different, with you very firmly in control (except when you’re not – but then you start picking up the flexibility to deal with that). So stop with the activities that keep you numb. And replace it with vitalising activities like writing. You have time. Just listen to your excuses, and start asking How Can I? Instead of Why Can’t I?
Break down where you are
If you haven’t written an outline, or have strayed from it, then it can be helpful to write a bullet-point summary of what you have written so far.
This gives you a chance to work out what lead you to this point where you are stuck, and consider an alternative that might get you unstuck. It may even require some re-writing, which you secretly suspected, but didn’t want to face.
Or perhaps you need to introduce a new element to unstick you where you are. Or plan out just a little bit ahead.
Plan both in Sprints and for The Long Haul
The future is hard to predict, as I’m sure life keeps reminding you.
So why plan too far ahead.
I tend to work in ‘Sprints’.
This is basically a two week planning period, where I put bullet points for each of the actions I am going to take.
Beyond this, I will plan 12 weeks of Sprints which are more general – maybe ten items in each of those six sprints.
And then I have some general goals for each of those 12 week periods – so about four big milestones in a year to work towards.
Just before I start a ‘Milestone’, I will revisit the Sprints for that milestone, and create ten or so items for each sprint so I can break down the work into logical tasks. Then I will take the next sprint, and write briefly what I will achieve from each task, break them down further if necessary, and estimate how long they will take. It doesn’t take more than an hour at the most. I will also review what didn’t get done in the previous sprint, allowing me to adjust my estimates according to reality. Or my ‘sprint velocity’ as it is known.
This is a software development methodology that I find translates very nicely into pretty much any other project I am working on.
Work out shortcuts
There will be ways in which you can speed up or make more effective your writing process.
You may work better using specific software such as Google Docs, Scrivener, StoryShop, A text editor, or even Evernote.
You may think about what you are writing, and grab mini chunks of time when going to the toilet, between meetings, at lunch, while your partner watches TV, on the bus / coach / train, in any kind of queue etc.
Or you may dictate with a raised voice over the traffic noise on your phone on your way to and from work, and use Dragon Dictate to get a first draft / outline down.
I dictated three books in three months this way on a daily 1-1.5 hour commute. Which made it a lot more tolerable, once I accepted I would regularly need to remove the expletives!
Batching up small pieces of work can improve efficiency too, such as writing blog posts, doing your expenses, editing what you have written, queuing up blog posts and finding images for them, marketing and social media activities, transcribing your dictation etc.
Cueing up your work
When you finish a session of a piece of work (for example, writing part of your book’s chapter), it can help to get all the information together for the next piece of that type of work. This means you reduce the cognitive load of switching to a different type of task – which, when you’ve done this a couple of times, means you will be less likely to procrastinate, because you know everything’s set up and ready to go. It seems like a molehill rather than a mountain.
For example, when I am writing, I will mark my place with an ‘XXX’ so I can just search for that marker text next time. Your favourite software may just leave the cursor there, ready to go. If it’s a tricky bit coming up, I will do a bit of pre-planning and writes some notes just before where I am going to start the difficult section, so I can read through those notes (usually no more than three of four bullet points) and get going straight away.
If you have created an outline up-front, I would suggest pasting the part of the outline directly into your text just before you write it (or if you have software like Scrivener, you can paste this into the notes section associated to the scene).
This just makes for one less thing for you to do, and a very easy way to get your head in the right space next time you come to write. If you know it will be a while before you are writing again (e.g. a week away), then why not write a quick summary of what you’ve just written as well so you don’t have to re-read what you’ve just written.
If you are struggling to write regularly, one thing you can do is to make sure you never finish at the end of a section – e.g. half way through a sentence, preferably just before something interesting is going to happen.
This is horrible. Your mind will want to get back to finishing that sentence and section, so you will find a way of making sure you are there, ready to go, for your next writing session. I know, it’s one step away from self-harm. But it works.
In order to keep on writing, and avoid constantly editing your recent work, is to keep separate editing notes, so that when you spot something that is wrong, or realise that a whole section needs to change in a previous bit of the novel due to something happening now that you didn’t plan for (stories have a way of telling themselves despite your outline) – or because you need to introduce some foreshadowing, then don’t be tempted to make the change now.
Make it in the next edit. Carry on through the manuscript, and the mere fact that you have a backlog of changes will ensure you will go back and make them later, because it’s a millstone getting gradually heavier that you really need to shift. But do it all in one go. Because what if something changes again, and you have to edit that you edited twice before because you just… couldn’t… wait.
Make fair comparisons
One thing beginner writers often do, is to feel like giving up when they go to do their second edit. Argh! It’s rubbish. Looks like a ten year old wrote it. So much missing, so much waffle where it doesn’t need to be, the story meanders off into random directions needlessly, the pacing gets interrupted etc etc.
It doesn’t look at all like Stephen King. Or ***insert favourite multi-million selling author here***.
Here’s the thing. Odds are you won’t be a multi-million selling author. But you can still make a good living being an author nonetheless. And you never know. You might win the lotto. But would you bet your livelihood on it?
So why do you compare where you are now to a one-in-a-several-hundred-million author who has several decades of experience behind them? It’s nuts.
Why not find someone who is fairly new in your genre, and compare yourselves to them? Someone who has some likes on GoodReads, a few Amazon semi-decent reviews, appears on the third page of Amazon listings (or just ahead of you) – that kind of thing. They are probably just a bit in front of where you are. So look at the work they do. Look at the mistakes. Look at the good bits. Follow their progress. Learn from the mistakes as well as the brilliant bits. It’s a lot easier to spot where people are going wrong if you don’t read the people at the top of their game, because it’s all good stuff flowing into each other. What’s there to learn if you can’t spot the mistake? It’s very difficult to disentangle.
And as you progress in your aptitude, read people a little in front of you in the rankings, and see how they write.
And as and when you can afford to, get an Editor who works in your genre. They are much more likely to know the common mistakes, and fast-track you to getting something that is sellable in that genre.
You are not ***insert your favourite author here*** – you have your own identity, style, and will appeal to a different set of readers. Who will, over time, get to know your work, and read it…. If you keep writing it.
People may post bad reviews. People may post good reviews. People may be totally indifferent until your third or fourth book (and a realisation you have to actually promote yourself). You may fear feeling bruised and wounded by this.
But then that’s true of learning to ride a bike.
You let the wounds scab over, and keep getting on the proverbial bicycle, because you want to ride that bike, whatever anyone else says.
Is your Ego that important?
Or maybe it needs to toughen up, so you can feel like you have ownership of your life, your writing life again.
And think how that will filter into other parts of your life…
Listen to the podcast to see how quickly this happens to our regular guests.
Okay, I said Seven things. I’m going to cheat slightly. Because there’s one thing that matters more than anything else. And it is the golden rule for writing:
Get out of your own way, and WRITE!